Finding a team: Reasons to root for the remaining playoff rosters



New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom throws in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

It will probably be difficult for any Pirates fan to stay invested in the MLB playoffs now that the Buccos lost the Wild Card game for the second straight year — but before you change the channel on current games, note some similarities these teams have with Pittsburgh.

Each of the four teams left in their respective leagues’ championship series has one thing in common with Pittsburgh — they have been longtime underdogs that finally have a possible future of perennial success. In this sea of unsung teams, here are the reasons why each of the final four are worth your rooting interest.

Chicago Cubs

It might be a tough pill to swallow to root for the Cubs, who eliminated the Pirates this postseason. If the Cubs can pull off the same feat like the unhittable Madison Bumgarner and his San Francisco Giants did and win a ring, fans can just chalk up their wild-card draws to bad luck. . .

There’s also Cubs’ ace Jake Arrieta. I know, he is public enemy No. 1 in Pittsburgh since his dominating performance in the Wild Card round shut down any chance of the Pirates winning. But objectively speaking, he is a cool, cool man with a great baseball beard and an entertaining Twitter account. Just look at the now-viral photo of Arrieta’s son pouring champagne down the pitcher’s throat in celebration after the Cubs’ wild-card win.

And come on. No World Series in 107 years? The Pirates’ drought of 36 years seems like an insignificant speck compared to the Cubbies’ struggles. It’s hard for anyone with an ounce of sympathy to not feel for the long-suffering Chicago faithful.

New York Mets

Like the Pirates’ twentysomethings outfield, the Mets’ rotation is raw — their top four starters are all 27 or younger — and plays with the 21st highest opening day budget in baseball. With that inexperience and lack of huge contracts comes a zest for the game. The Mets boast a few young stud hurlers — their Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard can each match up with Gerrit Cole and, in a couple years maybe, Pirates prospect Tyler Glasnow.

One of the most likeable and GIF-able players in the league, the rotund, 42-year-old Bartolo Colon is an ageless, joyful wonder to behold. The Mets’ pitcher’s reaction if he ever makes contact with the ball should be enough to sway any fan to his cause. Just on Tuesday, a new video surfaced of Colon slipping and falling while walking back to the clubhouse, looking more like your dad at a family picnic than a key cog in a pennant push.

Toronto Blue Jays

If you like offense, root for Toronto. Even if you don’t, root for Toronto, because this team is a pipeline of former Pirates. Former Pittsburgh fan favorite Russell Martin is behind the plate for the squad, signing a contract with Toronto two years after he hit two home runs off Johnny Cueto in the 2013 Wild Card game. Besides him, slugger Jose Bautista came up in the Pirates’ minor league system.

You can also look at the Blue Jays’ similarity to the Pirates, in that they have not had top billing in their own division for years. During their playoff drought, the Pirates were always looking up at the St. Louis Cardinals in the standings, the same way that the Yankees and Red Sox have dominated the AL East for years. Those two teams have won a combined eight World Series titles since the last time the Blue Jays made the playoffs 22 years ago — a similar time span to the Pirates’ drought that lasted from 1993 to 2013.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are a significant competitior to the Blue Jays in the “most exciting team” category. Built with a collection of pure ballplayers and athletes, the Royals excel at stealing bases, making clutch hits and fielding a superb defense. The team made its first postseason appearance in 28 years last season — just a little longer than the Pirates’ old playoff drought.

Maybe it’s hard to root for a team in which former NL Central terror Johnny Cueto leads the rotation — even if the Pirates broke him down in the Wild Card game two years ago. Even with that pedigree, Cueto has not been the reason the Royals are this far into October. Cueto has struggled since Kansas City acquired him at the trade deadline, including during the playoffs. Cueto posted a 4.76 ERA in the regular season for the Royals and an atrocious 7.88 ERA in the playoffs

Somehow, even after reaching the World Series last year, analysts looked at the Royals in the preseason as an afterthought in favor of new teams with better storylines, like the Astros or the Red Sox. Root for Kansas City to get out of the underdog role this postseason, as Pittsburgh did two years ago.

If you still find it hard to pull for any of these final four, just sit tight for another couple weeks and follow the Pirates’ winter moves instead. Or root for Pitt football. I hear they’re doing pretty well.

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